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Specifying race-ethnic differences in risk for psychiatric disorder in a USA national sample

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 05 October 2005

Background. Epidemiological studies have found lower than expected prevalence of psychiatric disorders among disadvantaged race-ethnic minority groups in the USA. Recent research shows that this is due entirely to reduced lifetime risk of disorders, as opposed to persistence. Specification of race-ethnic differences with respect to clinical and social characteristics can help identify the protective factors that lead to lower lifetime risk among disadvantaged minority groups.

Method. Data on 5424 Hispanics, non-Hispanic Blacks, and non-Hispanic Whites came from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, a nationally representative survey conducted with the World Mental Health version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Race-ethnic differences in risk of disorders were compared across specific diagnoses, ages of onset, cohorts and levels of education.

Results. Both minority groups had lower risk for common internalizing disorders: depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia. In addition, Hispanics had lower risk for dysthymia, oppositional-defiant disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; non-Hispanic Blacks had lower risk for panic disorder, substance use disorders and early-onset impulse control disorders. Lower risk among Hispanics, relative to non-Hispanic Whites, was found only among the younger cohort (age [les ]43 years). Lower risk among minorities was more pronounced at lower levels of education.

Conclusion. The pattern of race-ethnic differences in risk for psychiatric disorders suggests the presence of protective factors that originate in childhood and have generalized effects on internalizing disorders. For Hispanics, but not for non-Hispanic Blacks, the influence of these protective factors has emerged only recently.

Corresponding author
Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, 180 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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